Knights of the New Crusade
A Challenge to the Cowards of Christendom
ne way to express discontent with the Christian Right's endless attempts to install fundamentalist values as public policy is to burn an upside-down cross into your forehead and release new music on 6/6/06. That approach certainly has its charm, as those Christ-hating folks in Deicide have proven over the years.
But while knee-jerk recoiling beats passive complacency, it's hard to imagine a dialog resulting from a song like "Kill the Christian." Hence the value of the Knights of the New Crusade: they're fun on a purely musical level, with blaring garage rock as raw as anything on Nuggets and they've got big aspirations. As their mission statement declares, the Knights' objective is to "take Christianity back from the powerful hypocrites who have hijacked it and to make Christian rock that actually rocks." It's hard to suppress an "amen" to that.
A Challenge to the Cowards of Christendom is just that. "Too Christian! Too strong!" declares opening track "Cowards of Christendom," and it brings not just the noise, but the message too: when the Philistines have co-opted the Word and perverted its ideas until the image of Jesus is misused to drum up support for a wall to keep out struggling immigrants, anti-gay bigotry, the death penalty, war, and pro-corporate Republican policies, an intervention is necessary. These Knights, in full medieval crusader garb including helmets, armor, and sword, nominate themselves for the task. Alternating between bouts of rock and didactic skits, they combatively remind us that the actual Jesus embraced peace, brotherhood, an equitable redistribution of wealth, and the defense of sexual outcasts like Mary Magdalene. No right wing shill for the profoundly anti-human policies of the Bush administration, the real Jesus was at least as heroic and inspiring as Malcolm X, Emma Goldman, or Oscar Romero, and the Knights' crusade is to reclaim him as a progressive.
It's a tall order, but the fact that they tap into a 1960s garage ethos so militantly that Mark Arm must be seething with jealousy helps. A Challenge sounds like something recorded on one mic (needle pushed very much into the red) in 1966 and left to fester in a dank basement until someone transferred the acetate to CD without any cleanup. I mean that as praise—when the band shouts, "I got news, got news for you" on "Got Some Gospel for You," the only way to distinguish it from the Sonics is that the opiate of choice is religion rather than Strychnine. "Father Bingo" launches a jeremiad against a priest who "fleeces his flock just to pay for his honey and milk," while some roadhouse blues seep through the cracks of the gospel traditional "The Big Man." Each song gets biblical footnotes, proving that the Knights know their good book, as well as how to subvert contemporary dogma. "Lipstick Lesbian," for instance, may sound palatable to evangelical ears, but track down its reference to Matt 5:32 and you'll find that "whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." Cheering homophobes might recall something about the first stone.
The between-song skits skewer the modern corruption of Christianity, as greedy executives on the sharply-titled "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Christendom" remind one another, "We have to assure that the actual teachings of Christ are not evident in any of our products. They might offend some people, just as they did when he was alive." Another complains of the Knights, "They want to throw the money changers and the vendors out of the temple again. Wasn't once enough?" As on many rap albums, the skits hinder the flow of repeat listens, but they're clever, pointed, and short (the whole album clocks its thirteen tracks in at twenty six minutes), and they might even inspire questioning among real-world conservative Christians (who surely peruse the Alternative Tentacles catalog often), coming as they do from the ranks of the saved.
Of course, one could harbor suspicion about the true beliefs of the Knights; to be sure, their shtick isn't too far removed from garage devotees like the Mummies, in both sound and image. But they apparently play actual Christian venues, they indisputably know their Bible, and they have a better understanding of Jesus than George Bush or Pat Robertson. Time will tell whether they manage to reclaim Christianity from such hypocrites, but in the meantime they certainly succeed in their secondary goal of making Christian rock rock.
Reviewed by: Whitney Strub
Reviewed on: 2006-06-27